Ron Rivera is changing special teams coordinators – again.
The Carolina Panthers’ coach has reassigned Richard Rodgers after the Panthers’ special teams finished at or near the bottom in a number of major special teams categories this past season, two league sources said Tuesday.
According to the sources, Rivera will promote Rodgers’ assistant, Bruce DeHaven, who came to Carolina in 2013 with 26 years of NFL coaching experience. Rodgers is expected to take a position on the defensive staff.
Rodgers, Rivera’s teammate at Cal, had no NFL coaching experience when he was hired as the special teams assistant in 2012. He took over near midseason after Rivera fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy.
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The special-team units improved under Rodgers in 2013, jumping from last place to 13th in the Dallas Morning News’ annual special teams rankings. But they plummeted to 31st among 32 teams in the newspapers’ rankings this past season.
Carolina was last in three categories – punt coverage (15.5 yards allowed per return), net punting (36.5 yards) and points allowed (24).
General manager Dave Gettleman said after the season the Panthers might change their approach to special teams, and could sign players with a history of special teams success.
DeHaven arrived from Buffalo, where he had two stints totaling 16 years as the Bills’ special teams coach.
In 2012 during DeHaven’s last season with Buffalo, the Bills led the league with a 17.1-yard punt return average, and were fourth with a 27-yard kick return average. Both were franchise records.
DeHaven’s first stop in Buffalo was from 1987 to 1999, and coincided with the Bills’ four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1990 to 1993.
Former Bills coach Wade Phillips fired DeHaven after a playoff loss to Tennessee in the “Music City Miracle” game. The Titans’ Kevin Dyson scored the game-winning touchdown on a kick return after taking a throwback pass from Frank Wycheck that some reporters thought was an illegal forward lateral.
DeHaven, a former college and USFL assistant, also was the special teams coach for San Francisco (2000-02), Dallas (2003-06) and Seattle (2007-09).
He will try to improve a special-teams unit that allowed four touchdowns in 2014, including two on blocked punts in a Nov. 30 loss at Minnesota. It was the first time in more than a quarter-century a team had allowed two punts to be blocked and returned for scores.
The Panthers also had issues with their return teams after they chose not to sign an experienced returner after Ted Ginn Jr. left in free agency. The Panthers used rookie Philly Brown and former Wofford receiver Brenton Bersin as their primary punt returners.
Brown had a 79-yard return for a touchdown against Chicago, but he muffed a punt against Pittsburgh that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Brown, an undrafted free agent from Ohio State, also served as the main kick returner. He averaged 22.8 yards per return, and did not have a runback longer than 35 yards.
Bersin had a muffed punt against Arizona in the playoffs that led to the Cardinals’ first touchdown.
In a divisional-round loss at Seattle the following week, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor twice vaulted over the Panthers’ line on field goal tries after Seattle coaches picked up on holder Brad Nortman’s pre-snap timing.